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People v. Perez

Supreme Court, Bronx County
Dec 5, 1996
171 Misc. 2d 75 (N.Y. Misc. 1996)


holding that prosecution was entitled to pretrial discovery of all statements, including those tape recorded, handwritten, or stenographically transcribed, of its witnesses that were obtained by defense

Summary of this case from Commonwealth v. Durham


December 5, 1996

Robert T. Johnson, District Attorney of Bronx County (Ania T. Bohachevsky of counsel), for plaintiff.

Luke Scardigno and Jonathan Lattimer, III, Kew Gardens, for defendant.

Motion by the People to compel the defendant to furnish them with a copy of two tape-recorded interviews which defense counsel and his investigator separately conducted of a prosecution witness is granted to the extent of directing defense counsel to either make said disclosure prior to the commencement of trial (see, State v. Strandy, 49 Wn. App. 537, 745 P.2d 43, review denied 109 Wn.2d 1027) or, upon his failure to do so, precluding his complete use of said tapes for any purpose upon the trial of the instant indictment (see, State v. Young, 94 Or. App. 683, 767 P.2d 90).

Defendant has been indicted on two counts of murder in the second degree (Penal Law § 125.25, [2]) for allegedly causing the death of a two-year-old boy. In the course of pretrial investigation, the defense conducted two interviews of Lisa Figueroa, the infant's mother, which were tape recorded by counsel and his investigator.

Since Ms. Figueroa will now be a witness for the prosecution, the People, who apparently learned of the existence of these tapes during jury selection, move for their disclosure. The defense, however, opposes the application upon the sole and exclusive ground that there is no authority to judicially sanction such disclosure. The court does not agree (see, CPL 240.30 [b]; 240.40 [2]).

Preliminarily, defense counsel does not argue that the subject tapes are immune from discovery under the work product doctrine (see, Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495), "which generally serves to bar discovery of documents prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial [citations omitted]" (People v. Small, 631 P.2d 148, 158 [Colo], cert denied 454 U.S. 1101). In any event, "[r]ecorded or transcribed interviews of the prosecution witnesses are unlikely to contain the `opinions, theories or conclusions' of defense counsel" (State v. Yates, 111 Wn.2d 793, 801, 765 P.2d 291, 296), and this court's in camera inspection of the two tapes confirms that the portions of the tapes previously orally ordered disclosed (on the record on Dec. 5, 1996) do not do so here. Thus, "[t]hat being the case, the tape[s] cannot be deemed to be a work product" (State v. Strandy, 49 Wn. App. 537, 540, 745 P.2d 43, 46, supra).

The work product "`privilege' is not absolute; it is not personal to the client; and it can be waived by an attorney's course of conduct" (People v. Small, 631 P.2d 148, 159, supra). Thus, if the defense here elects to use the tapes as impeachment evidence, it will have "waived the work product privilege with respect to matters covered [therein]" (supra).

Returning to the issue at hand, the Legislature, in enacting CPL article 240, has prescribed a detailed discovery regimen in New York. "Items not enumerated in article 240 are not discoverable as a matter of right unless constitutionally or otherwise specially mandated [citations omitted]" (People v Colavito, 87 N.Y.2d 423, 427). As applied to the prosecution, "[t]he scope of the People's right to have discovery of defendant's evidence on demand, without the need for a motion, is set forth in [CPL 240.30]" (Preiser, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 11A, CPL 240.30, at 252). As noted by one leading commentator on the CPL, "[r]eciprocal discovery is now a fully accepted fact of criminal litigation" (ibid.), a principle which is dispositive of the instant controversy.

Here, disclosure of the tapes is not only statutorily prescribed by CPL 240.30 (1)(b), it is also "specially mandated" (People v. Colavito, 87 N.Y.2d, at 427, supra) predicated upon principles of fundamental fairness.

The applicable statute, CPL 240.30 (1) (b), provides in relevant part as follows:

"1. Except to the extent protected by court order, upon a demand to produce by the prosecutor, a defendant against whom an indictment * * * is pending shall disclose and make available for inspection * * * copying or testing, subject to constitutional limitations * * *

"(b) any * * * tape o[r] other electronic recording which the defendant intends to introduce at trial."

In construing a similar statute in State v. Young ( 94 Or. App. 683, 689, 767 P.2d 90, 93, supra), the Oregon Court of Appeals held that defense counsel's failure to disclose a tape recording of a telephone conversation between the victim and the defendant's son was clearly a discovery violation, noting "that, if defense counsel, even though not certain, can `reasonably predict' that she will use certain exhibits to impeach a state's witness, she must give timely discovery to the prosecutor".

Oregon Revised Statutes § 135.835 provides, in relevant part, that "defendant shall disclose to the district attorney * * *
"(3) Any books, papers, documents, photographs or tangible objects which the defendant intends to offer in evidence at the trial".

Since the defendant in Young (supra) had failed to disclose the tape recording, the prosecution sought the remedy of preclusion. The following colloquy between the court and the prosecutor referable to this issue is notable:

"`THE STATE: * * * [I]f I had done this to the defense, what would the sanction be?

"`THE COURT: You know what I would do * * *

"`THE STATE: I do know what you would do and I'm asking for the same sanction in regard to the defense.'" (State v. Young, supra, 94 Ore App, at 686, 767 P.2d, at 91-92.)

In response, the court granted the prosecutor's motion to the extent of ordering limited preclusion — i.e., allowing defense witnesses whose names were previously disclosed to the prosecution to testify what the victim had said to them. It rejected defense counsel's argument "that she intended to offer the tape and transcripts for impeachment purposes only if the victim were to testify contrary to his statements on the tape [and, therefore,] she did not `intend' to offer the tape and transcripts within the meaning of the discovery statutes" (State v. Young, supra, 94 Ore App, at 686, 767 P.2d, at 92).

In resisting disclosure in our case, defense counsel does not take refuge behind the word "intend", as counsel did in State v Young (supra), by asserting that he does not intend to introduce the tapes at trial. Nor does he argue that CPL 240.30 (1) (b) is not controlling here.

In any event, the court holds that, as a matter of fundamental fairness, the People are clearly entitled to pretrial discovery of all statements — whether they be tape recorded, handwritten or stenographically transcribed — of its witnesses that were previously obtained by the defense. This is a right, it must be emphasized, which is currently enjoyed by criminal defendants, as case law plainly illustrates that the prosecution may be compelled to disclose its written statements, as well as Grand Jury testimony, taken from witnesses who will be testifying for the defense (see, e.g., People v. Barbera, 220 A.D.2d 601, lv denied 88 N.Y.2d 844; People v. Gladden, 72 A.D.2d 568); and, as observed earlier, reciprocal discovery has been the law in New York since the enactment of CPL article 240.

Clearly, "[t]he defendant's due process rights [are] not violated by the production of the [tapes]. `Trial by ambush, or the old fox-and-hounds approach to litigation, does not promote accuracy or efficiency in the search for truth.' [Citations omitted.] Criminal discovery is not a one-way street flowing in the direction of the defense. [Citations omitted.]" (People v Small, 631 P.2d 148, 158, supra.)

Thus, for example, in State v. Strandy ( 49 Wn. App. 537, 745 P.2d 43, supra) the Washington Court of Appeals rejected the defendant's argument that the trial court could not require him to disclose his tape-recorded interview of a prosecution witness.

Similarly, in State v. Yates ( 111 Wn.2d 793, 796, 765 P.2d 291, 293, supra), the Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion to the extent that its "order encompassed the pretrial disclosure of statements, signed or unsigned, recorded or written, given by potential prosecution witnesses during interviews with defense counsel or their investigator" (see also, State v. Culkin, 791 S.W.2d 803, 811 [Mo] [court directed, after an in camera inspection, defense counsel to disclose to the prosecution all notes of his interview of the victim]; People v. Garay, 105 Misc.2d 1, 3).

Accordingly, the People's motion is granted to the extent indicated above.

Summaries of

People v. Perez

Supreme Court, Bronx County
Dec 5, 1996
171 Misc. 2d 75 (N.Y. Misc. 1996)

holding that prosecution was entitled to pretrial discovery of all statements, including those tape recorded, handwritten, or stenographically transcribed, of its witnesses that were obtained by defense

Summary of this case from Commonwealth v. Durham
Case details for

People v. Perez

Case Details

Full title:THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Plaintiff, v. CARLOS PEREZ, Defendant

Court:Supreme Court, Bronx County

Date published: Dec 5, 1996


171 Misc. 2d 75 (N.Y. Misc. 1996)
653 N.Y.S.2d 527

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